– The Secret Life of Costumes
photo:Berta (Gabrielle Lavigne), Il Barbiere di Siviglia (1978), designed by: Robert Prévost
Berta (Gabrielle Lavigne), Il Barbiere di Siviglia (1978)
Designed by Robert Prévost
Photo credit: Fernand R. Leclair
© National Arts Centre


The presentation and production of opera at the National Arts Centre started shortly after the Centre opened in 1969, with the chamber opera Orphée, by Canadian composer Gabriel Charpentier. The Canadian Opera Company, based out of Toronto, presented operas annually from 1969 to 1978.

The in-house production of opera began at the NAC in 1971 under the rubric of Festival Canada, also known as Festival Ottawa, Festival Ottawa Opera Plus. Mario Bernardi, National Arts Centre Orchestra conductor from 1969 to 1982, was artistic director of Festival Canada. During this ambitious period of NAC opera production, shows were produced to the highest international standards.

Festival Canada started modestly in 1971 with a chamber-sized production of The Marriage of Figaro that featured an all-Canadian cast. By 1976, NAC operas had attracted international attention with productions such as The Queen of Spades, starring Jon Vickers and Maureen Forrester and featuring the work of Czech scenographer Josef Svoboda with costumes designed by Pavel Kaslik. Cendrillon, starring Frederica von Stade, dazzled NAC audiences in 1979. Some of the opera world's best designers produced spellbinding sets and costumes for the NAC during this period. Costumes for opera in the NAC Costume Collection are drawn mainly from this period.

In-house opera at the NAC was suspended in 1983 due to budget cuts. It made its return from 1988 to 1990 with stagings of the Mozart/Da Ponte cycle of operas, including Le Nozze de Figaro (1988), Don Giovanni (1989) and Cosi fan tutte (1990). Designer Peter Rice's gorgeous Edwardian-era Cosi fan tutte was a standout.

Ottawa's Opera Lyra has brought visiting opera productions to NAC stages (first to the NAC Theatre, and then to Southam Hall) and has attracted faithful opera audiences. They now present an annual series of opera in Southam Hall with the National Arts Centre Orchestra in the pit.

Operas represented in the NAC Costume Collection:

  • Cosi fan tutte (Festival Canada 1972)
  • The Abduction from the Seraglio / L’enlèvement au Sérail (Festival Canada 1974)
  • La traviata (1975)
  • The Magic Flute (Festival Canada 1975)
  • Queen of Spades (Festival Canada 1976)
  • Il Barniere di Siviglia (Festival Ottawa, 1978)
  • Idomeneo (1981Festival Ottawa Opera Plus)
  • Così fan tutte (1990)
DID YOU KNOW... The National Arts Centre’s largest performance venue, formerly known as the Opera, was designed for the production and presentation of opera. In 2000 the Opera was renamed Southam Hall in honour of Hamilton Southam who was known to many as the founding father of the NAC.